Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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(1857-1939) French anthropologist, trained in philosophy, appointed to the chair of the history of modern philosophy at the Sorbonne in 1904, turned his interest in logic toward the study of "primitive mentality"—the role of emotions in the psychic life of native peoples.

Much of LÚvy-Bruhl's work was in opposition to the "rationalism" associated with Durkheimian sociology then dominant in France. LÚvy-Bruhl forcefully argued that ways of thinking may vary from society to society. His most important book, Les Fonctions Mentale dans les sociÚtÚs infÚrieures (1910 [How Natives Think , Allen & Unwin 1926]), argued that primitive thought is "pre-logical" and "mystical." It uses a "law of participation," governing supersensible forces, rather than logical categories; hence, it does not shrink from violating the law of contradiction. He examined missionary reports, ethnographic literature, and travelers' accounts dealing with the mental functions of tribal peoples and concluded that mysticism pervaded all of their perceptions. La MentalitÚ Primitive ([Primitive Mentality] Macmillan 1923) examined the primitive notion of cause, and L'┬me Primitive (The "Soul" of the Primitive , Macmillan 1928), the idea of the soul or individual. Later works extended his method to the supernatural, myth, symbols, rituals, and related topics among tribal people. His posthumous Carnets (notebooks) express some changes in his main theses, including repudiation of his theory of "primitive mentality." Despite criticisms of his theory (e.g., by Durkheim) and ethnographic evidence, his work remains a suggestive treatment of modes of thought.

Donald A. Nielsen and Stephen D. Glazier


J. Cazeneuve, Lucien LÚvy-Bruhl (New York: Harper, 1972).

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